Old Blind Dogs Tour Diary USA 2004 Part 2
We have just returned from a tour of the USA which took in twenty shows, fourteen states and 6500 miles in twenty four days. Here is Part 2 of Aaron's tour diary.
Monday 19th April
In the morning Rory, Fraser, Valerie and I head to a local T-Shirt store to order some new stock. We order 150 new T-Shirts and arrange to have them mailed ahead. At the concert in Cedar Rapids the green room is far too chilled out, the beer is cold and the Chinese is great...sometimes life can be so cruel. The gig goes well and we end up in a bar across the road from the hotel where we enjoy a few beers before being cornered by a very lively individual who informs us that he works in a local 'Krispy Kreme' donut store AND that he is travelling to London to open a branch there. He offers to have a big box of donuts left at the hotel reception in the morning and we accept not believing for a moment that we'll see them. Slightly freaked out by his exuberance, we all head back and crash...
Tuesday 20th April
Wow! Wake up to two large boxes of fresh 'Krispy Kreme' donuts! I had offered the boys $5 that there would be NO donuts in the morning and no one would take the bet...phew! As we head off on another long drive the OBD Multiplex Cinema opens for business (pictured). Our predicted nine hours drive becomes a painful thirteen through driving rain and we discover that we had driven through a tornado warning (we later discovered that several people had been killed in the tornado). Arrive in the early hours at Fate and Melanie's house (more friends of the band) and wolf down their home-cooked lasagne before crashing.
Wednesday 21st April
A very lazy day hanging around Fate and Melanie's house in Bellville, Ohio. Laundry gets done, emails are checked and the band gets a chance to rehearse. We are recording as many of the shows as possible with a view to releasing a live album later in the year and we are keen to revive some of the older material which is still very popular with the fans. We head to the show which is sold out and are joined by Kristen, a friend of the band. She has some much needed T-shirt stock from a previous tour. Great atmosphere at the concert, a lovely audience and all round good vibe. After the show we realise that we're all still beat after our epic journey the day before. Nathan and I drop the boys off and decide to treat ourselves to a hotel for the night. We gorge on Steak and Shake encouraged by their sign (pictured) and then head back to the hotel for a good night's sleep (we're so folk and roll!).
Thursday 22nd April
When we head back to get the boys we discover that they've been partying until five am...flying the flag, they're such martyr's to the cause! Jonny had treated the neighbours to a heart-felt rendition of 'In your Glasgow slums', whiskey in hand, at four in the morning...he's so considerate! We head off to Mickey Finn's Pub in Toledo and arrive in time to check in. The venue is a large Irish pub and, despite a buzzing PA system, we enjoy a good gig in front of an audience which has travelled from far and wide to see the band.
Friday 23rd April
The Old Town School of Music is a beautiful venue in downtown Chicago and we arrive after getting so badly lost that we went over the Skyway Bridge ($2 a time) four times. We arrive just in time to soundcheck before the first house comes in. Great news, our new T-shirt stock has arrived...we have a shop again! The gig consists of two concerts, a double bill of us and guitar legend John Renbourn. We were telling him about our sweep each evening and how we had bought Fraser a large amount of fireworks as his prize. He told us a funny story about a time when he and his son were touring in the USA. His son returned from the pub, slightly the worse for wear, and let off a box of fireworks in their hotel room which resulted in the arrival of the local police department and fire brigade!! Although the second house is not as full as the first we have a great night, good sound and a great response from the crowd. There will definitely be a track or two from Chicago on the live CD. Unfortunately though, it's another early rise so we head back to our hotel for sleep.
Saturday 24th April
We head off early the next day for an afternoon appearance at the Southern Illinois Irish Festival. Despite the intense rain we are heading to an OUTDOOR afternoon spot! When we arrive the rain has stopped but it has succeeded in scaring off many of the potential visitors to the festival. We do our 'unplugged' set and then head back to the motel where we partake in an 'all you can eat' Chinese buffet which requires sleeping off until we have to head to the gig. When we returned to the motel to rest ANOTHER friend of the band, Chrissy arrived. We were all sat in our rooms watching bad TV (is there any other kind?) when the programme is interrupted by a tornado watch for the area we are in. This progresses to a tornado warning and then the weather guy mentions that one rotating storm cell is headed towards the Carbondale area and, '...the South Illinois Irish Festival'. Jeesh, we thought, a mixture of excitement and concern. By this stage we could see an electrical storm from our hotel balcony, flashes of lightning lit up the cloud heavy sky. We thought it would be best to head to the concert and when we arrived many of the locals were monitoring the situation on radios. At this point one gentleman said, 'you only need to worry if the siren goes off!' and as if by magic...wwwwwwwwwwwoooooooooooooo!!!!...the town claxon came on full blare warning the now deserted streets of Carbondale to take cover. Hail was being reported at one inch in diameter and the rain was coming down in sheets (in 'duvets' as Jonny suggested!) The gig went ahead despite the weather and we learned that the cell had hopped over the town without causing any major damage. The locals seemed unphased but, not being used to tornado's in Scotland, it left the band's imaginations running wild with 'what might have been'. After so much excitement we all head back to our motel to sleep.
Sunday 25th April
We all say goodbye to Kristen (who, we have discovered, will be moving over to Scotland in the summer) and head off to Memphis where we arrive just in the nick of time for a four o'clock show. Our host Robert Campbell and his wife Renate, have some wonderful Southern hospitality waiting backstage in the form of home smoked catfish and cold beers. The gig was thoroughly enjoyable thanks to a combination of beautiful acoustic room and a warm enthusiastic audience. The bonus for us was that we had the whole evening off to relax. We headed back to the hotel (and Chrissy headed home) and then Robert took us to a great micro-brewery restaurant where we enjoyed one of the meals of the tour. After several days of travelling though we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel where we sunk a few beers and agreed that we would spend tomorrow, our last day off, in Memphis and take in a night on Beale Street.
Monday 26th April
After a very lengthy lie-in (I'm not telling you just HOW lazy we were!) we got up to get breakfast. Jonny, Fraser and I decided we would head to Beale Street in the daylight to see what food was available there. 'It'll be cool to say we did lunch in BB King's Blues Club'...so we head in an order. Unfortunately, they are not completely on the case and the food takes a long time and is not great. I suppose old BB can't get around the kitchen as fast as he used to! We buy our regulation souvenirs and postcards and head to a laundromat to catch up on the washing...not very folk 'n' roll but the smells in the van have to be addressed regularly! After a small band meeting to discuss our plans for a live CD of the tour and the development of the band's website, we all tog up and head out for sushi. We order from a menu that includes such delights as eel and flying fish roe and after a long wait devour the delicious food. The first signs of 'tour fatigue childish humour syndrome' rears its head when I decide to try and order an 'Itchyban' beer by asking for an 'Itchybaws' and succeed in getting the drink from the unsuspecting waitress. Jim decides to head back to the hotel for some kip so the rest of us make for Beale and start the evening in a piano bar where the pianist sneaks the lines 'How can you love me true, when I'm loving your sister too, thank you for making my balls blue!' into a well known song. We head to the Rum Boogie Cafe where we are treated to some fantastic mouthie playing. We stop along Beale to visit a souvenir shop, which results in a brush with 'The Pelvis' himself! (pictured). We end up in BB King's Club where the music, provided by the legendary Carl Drew more than makes up for the poor lunch. The 83 year is joined on stage by the fantastic (and gold suited) singer Ruby Wilson, the belle of Beale. Fraser is soon up on the dance floor 'bustin some moves' and Ruby tells him 'I like the way you dance!' much to our amusement! We have a group photo with Carl (pictured below) to cap off a great night and head back to the hotel where we have the extra drink we didn't need before heading into a deep sleep.
Tuesday 27th April
The weather had improved for us in Memphis after two weeks of rain, storms and tornado's but the weather in Florence, Alabama was the real deal. When we all packed our suitcases with sandals and shorts, this is what we were imagining! We made our way to Florence and passed the famous FAME studios where such classics as 'Mustang Sally' were cut. The venue was great and the hospitality matched it as our host Scooter provided us with a Chinese banquet fit for kings. The show went well but the nightlife in Florence was non-existent so we retired to the hotel...cup of cocoa and jammies on!
Wednesday 28th April
A beautiful drive down to Montgomery, Alabama. The venue was a large old school hall and the concert was run by the Highland Games society. Although not brilliantly attended we received the usual warm reception from Southern audiences. We then had to head for food and ended up in the 'Fox and Hounds English Bar and Grille'. This seemed like a sensible option since the only other place we could eat after the gig was called 'The Love Shack'! The promoter's wife informed me the local baseball team was called the Montgomery Biscuits...jeesh I thought, it must be hard to motivate yourself against an opposing team called something like 'the Tigers' or 'the Falcons' when you are named after a food item. My mind raced with options for Scottish teams...the Dundee Cakes, .the Aberdeen Stovies...the Edinburgh Shortbreads?
Thursday 29th April
Back across the timeline today to Eastern time (five hours difference from home) and Cartersville, Georgia. Only tonight and Asheville, NC before we fly up to Minnesota for our final weekend. The weather is cracking again so we are all making the most of it before the cold up north. The hotel last night has been great, high speed internet, hot tub and a pool so we are all suitably refreshed although we are all aware that we are heading to a pub gig tonight and the dangers of having a bar so close to the band! When we arrive we are stunned to find a small four channel powered mixer is our PA for the evening. We had been concerned about the PA and had phoned to check it would be OK but upon arrival realised that it most definitely was not.
We discussed the option of just bailing out and heading to Asheville but knew that fans might have travelled a long distance to see us. We persuaded the owner to hire the equipment we would need and everything turned out fine. Après gig, Nathan and his partner Kathryn (who we had the pleasure of meeting for the first time) took Fraser back the four hours to Asheville so they could get a good lie-in the next day. Jonny, Jim, Rory and I headed back to home lodgings in a beautiful house. Our host cracked open a bottle of wine and we cracked out the instruments. In the morning we would have to crack out the Ibuprofen!!
Friday 30th April
And so to Asheville, NC. I was looking forward to this gig having done it a few years back. The concert series in run by a guy called Jim McGill who runs a pretty tight ship so we knew we were in good hands. We checked into a great hotel, freshened up and headed into stunning Asheville to do our show. As I had remembered the concert was great and we were sure to dedicate a number to Kathryn and Nathan's mother Nan. Dr Gig cured our hangovers and no sooner had we finished we were of to Nathan's local the Jack in the Wood pub. They had some great Bluegrass music Del McCroury stylee (around one microphone) and it wasn't long before our toes were a tappin'!
Saturday 1st May
Oh what happened! I was sure I'd set that alarm...Jonny and I break some kind of record for getting from REM (I was chasing rabbits) to packed and in the van in under ten minutes. Flying with a hangover always tests your resolve...the best cure seemed to be to grab one final sleep in the van which had become our home for the last three weeks. Upon arrival we realised we'd have to try to pack all the crap that had built up in the van into our already bulging cases. We realised that we would have to donate our huge cache of fireworks to Nathan, as we would not be able to fly with them. The flight, despite a delay, is painless enough and we arrive in Minnesota/St Paul in enough time to relax in the hotel...pool...hot tub...clean laundry (Folk 'n' Roll). We head off to the gig and play outdoors. By the end of the set we are all suffering from test on our frosticles so we race back to the hotel and head out for a drink to 'warm up'. Jonny shows us the ring he has bought for the purposes of proposal in Aberdeen Airport...great! One drink turns into three, into five and it's not long before we are a lot more drink than popal thunk we are...still no morning gig!
Sunday 2nd May
A very chilled out morning and a chance to recover from the night before and begin the final pack. Having slightly over-estimated how much product we'd need for the final days, we are preparing to pack the remaining T-Shirts and CD's into our luggage for the journey home. Thanks to our sweep (a gift every day for the winner) we also realise that we all have a small toy store's worth of junk from truck stops to squeeze into our bags. The concert is at 5pm so we're hoping it's not quite as cold as the previous evenings efforts but a cold wind soon convinces us otherwise. Someone comments that it must get as cold as this in Scotland...'Aye, but we don't play gigs outdoors in it!' we reply. We're done by 7pm so we head back to the hotel joined by some friends of the band from Winnipeg (who are way ahead of us in the drinking stakes). We end up being offered a lift to another bar late on by a member of the local fire department. Once the doors of his car are shut he practically s*** himself. There was no escape or windows for us poor sods in the back. Our new friend informs us that his nickname at the Fire Department is 'Stinky' and proceeds to show us a tattoo of a skunk in a fireman's outfit on his arm...god if only we'd known! When we arrive back we are all finished...and head to bed. I wake up at around five am...in my underwear locked out of my room. Sleep walking to the bathroom drunk I have inadvertently locked myself out of the room. I embarrassingly head to the reception and ask for another key. 'I'm gonna need some I.D.!' says the receptionist. I explain that the only I.D. I could possibly provide would result in my incarceration for indecent exposure and she trusts me to bring my passport back from the room once I have covered up! Oh, jeesh talk about finishing the tour in style!
Monday 3rd May
The last minute frantic packing and we're off to the airport...check in and fly home! It's been good fun, twenty shows, fourteen states and 6500 miles in a van! I've had big shoes to fill but am sure that most of the fans who have come to see the new line-up have gone home happy that the Dogs music has been the first consideration despite the changes. Those fans that I have met have all been great, the response the guys get on the road is fantastic, and the hospitality from the promoters has been second to none. It's been a pleasure to work with Nathan, a real professional ('we got ourselves a reader!'), and the guys have been great fun to tour with...roll on the fall!